Poly use means mixing alcohol with drugs — not just illicit drugs, but also prescription or over-the-counter medications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every 53 minutes someone dies in a car crash that involves an alcohol-impaired driver. Colorado isn’t exempt: Last year, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 28 percent of the 546 traffic deaths in the state. Now, officials are eyeing a growing trend that is taking more young lives in car crashes.

Mixing Intoxicants

“Poly use,” “poly abuse,” and “poly-drug abuse” are terms you may not be familiar with. Simply put, they mean mixing alcohol with drugs — not just illicit drugs, but also prescription or over-the-counter drugs like some antihistamines. It’s becoming a serious problem.

It’s a challenge to hammer home the message that drugs, even those bought in a drugstore, can impact the ability to drive safely, especially to younger drivers. One government health survey notes that by the time children enter the 12th grade, half have abused an illicit drug at least once. The most commonly used drug is marijuana, but the list of abused substances includes prescription medications, glues, over-the-counter medications, and even aerosols.

Poly use can cause serious side effects, even when using prescription medications. According to WedMD, alcohol may decrease the effectiveness of medications or render them useless. In other cases, alcohol may make drugs toxic. Mixing alcohol and medications may increase the risk of complications such as:

  • Liver damage
  • Heart problems
  • Internal bleeding
  • Impaired breathing
  • Depression

You may know that alcohol is a depressant that slows down the functions of the central nervous system. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, this means normal brain function is impaired, which can impact driving skills such as judgment, concentration, and reaction time. When you add drugs, impairment is increased, creating an even more harmful situation on the road.

Poly Use in Colorado

Statistics from the Colorado State Patrol note that in 2014, law enforcement investigated 513 fatal and injury-causing crashes that involved driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), driving under the influence of drugs (DUID), or both.

Here in Colorado, another issue comes into play: the legalization of marijuana. Despite its classification in Colorado, marijuana is still considered an illicit drug in many other states. If legalization has had any influence on traffic accidents and fatalities is the million-dollar question —  it’s hotly debated whether recreational or medicinal use of pot has had an impact on car crashes and traffic fatalities.

Getting Caught Using and Driving

When it comes to DUI, DUID, or poly use, it’s a serious situation if you’re pulled over and found to be under the influence of anything that impairs your driving ability. Jail, fines, penalties, and license suspension all may be part of the punishment. And don’t forget, driving impaired — no matter what has compromised your ability to drive safely — can end your life or someone else’s.

To put a spin on a famous brand’s tagline: “Just DON’T do it.”

Don’t get behind the wheel if you have been drinking, taking drugs, or especially mixing the two.

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